What is a membrane sweep?
Q. My obstetrician mentioned a ‘membrane sweep’ at my last visit. My visits with him tend to feel very rushed, so I didn’t get to ask him for any further information on it. What is a membrane sweep’and is it likely to be painful or uncomfortable?
It’s important that women feel listened to at their antenatal visits but when your pregnancy is completely normal and you and baby are well, the visits can be excessively short. Write a list of questions and at the start of your next appointment let your caregiver know that you would like to discuss some things before you leave. This gives your caregiver an opportunity to advise the staff that your appointment will be longer than usual.
A membrane sweep or ‘sweep’ is a method of induction involving an internal examination to stimulate the labour hormones. It will start labour within 48 hours for about one in eight women. A sweep can sometimes ‘excite’ the uterus, causing irregular contractions that stop after a few hours, which can be frustrating. Some women may find sweeps unpleasant and uncomfortable but it can be worth further discussion if you need to be induced for a medical reason, or are approaching 14 days past your EDD. Anecdotally, some women report that their waters were accidentally released during a sweep, which then resulted in a chemical induction as labour didn’t start right away.
You may want to have a sweep if:
> There is a medical indication for induction and you want to see if a sweep will start labour on its own.
> You are 42 weeks pregnant.
> You are almost 42 weeks pregnant and you are planning to have your baby in a midwife-led unit or at home (babies must be born in hospital units once you go past 42 weeks).
You may not want to have a sweep if:
> There is no medical reason to induce labour.
> You want to let labour start spontaneously.
> You have had unexplained vaginal bleeding during your pregnancy.
> Induction is urgently required and time is limited.
> You have group B strep (GBS) in your vagina or you are unaware of your GBS status.
As a sweep is a medical procedure, you must be asked for consent and have a detailed discussion of the pros/cons with your caregiver.